Use the noun shrew — at your own risk — to refer to a woman who is argumentative, nagging, and ill tempered.

The noun shrew can also refer to a mouse-like animal with tiny eyes, a long snout, and a sharp bite. Superstitions associated with this small mammal led people in the thirteenth century to use the word shrew to describe a spiteful person, male or female. The word later came to be used to describe a nagging, ill-tempered woman, as in William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Unless you are a famous dead author, however, you may want to steer clear of this one in conversation: it’s considered offensive.

Definitions of shrew

n small mouselike mammal with a long snout; related to moles

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Sorex araneus, common shrew
common American shrew
Sorex cinereus, masked shrew
commonest shrew of moist habitats in North America
Blarina brevicauda, short-tailed shrew
North American shrew with tail less than half its body length
water shrew
any of several small semiaquatic shrews usually living near swift-flowing streams
Cryptotis parva, least shrew
small brown shrew of grassy regions of eastern United States
American water shrew, Sorex palustris
water shrew of North America
European water shrew, Neomys fodiens
widely distributed Old World water shrew
Mediterranean water shrew, Neomys anomalus
a type of water shrew
Type of:
small insect-eating mainly nocturnal terrestrial or fossorial mammals

n a scolding nagging bad-tempered woman

a noisy or scolding or domineering woman
(Yiddish) a vulgar shrew; a shallow coarse termagant
Type of:
disagreeable woman, unpleasant woman
a woman who is an unpleasant person

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